These painful shaving bumps happen when facial hairs become ingrown, growing sideways under the skin rather than outward—and get inflamed. Result: painful, itchy, acne-like eruptions. The resulting inflammation (Pseudofolliculitis barbae or, simply, folliculitis) can lead to a vicious cycle of painful shaving and infection. African-American men often have this problem but it’s common in many men who have thick, curly beards.
“My husband has curly hair, so he has this problem,” said dermatologist Susan Weinkle, MD, immediate past president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. “The hair grows out but then it curls and goes back into the skin and causes folliculitis,” says Dr. Weinkle, who often treats the condition at her practice in Bradenton, Florida.
If you are prone to razor bumps, try shaving less frequently, and not quite as closely—leaving just a little stubble—according to Skin Information, a dermatology website. When you do shave, says Dr. Weinkle, “Make sure you have a fresh, sharp razor. A dull razor is more aggravating as it pulls across the hair.” She also recommends antibacterial face scrubs formulated for men. “Products that cleanse the surface bacteria off the skin before a shave can help prevent infection in aggravated cases,” she says.
If you have an ingrown hair, you can try to gently dislodge it by using a soft-bristled toothbrush in a circular motion. Use a new one just for this purpose. You can also try a sterile needle to carefully dislodge an ingrown hair as well. If it’s not easy to do this, your dermatologist has other solutions.
When Dr. Weinkle sees patients, she often prescribes an anti-inflammatory topical steroid cream. You can also get a one percent hydrocortisone cream without a prescription, she says, and this may be sufficient to decrease the inflammation. “For patients who are having a really hard time with it, I may prescribe an oral antibiotic, such as doxycycline,” she says.
If you have persistent razor bumps, high-tech hair removal techniques be effective. Dr. Weinkle has had success with electrolysis, although it has “gone out of style,” she says. “With electrolysis, you can put the electric needle right down the shaft and obliterate the follicle.”
Laser treatments are also popular. Yes, it hurts a little, but it’s nothing like laser tattoo removal. “It’s not so painful,” she says. “All of my office staff had it done.”
The best part of these approaches is that the problem follicle will not grow back, which for a persistent problem is the only real cure.
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